The Promotion: From Stellar Performer to Terrible Leader
Have you ever seen this situation? A sales manager constantly exceeds her goals, inspires her peers, and has developed deep customer loyalty. She is seen as leadership material. She is promoted to vice president and now oversees her peers and another geographic, and is responsible to meet large departmental sales goals while giving her book of business to her once peers and now-subordinates. She clearly understands the intricate subtleties of sales, has good relationships with her peers, and is ambitious to climb the corporate ladder. What could go wrong?
Plenty. After two months, the department in an uproar. Goals are not being met, morale is down, and the new VP is devastated and confused about the sudden changes. She can’t understand why no one is doing their job. If they’d just stop complaining and get to work like she used to, everything would be fine.
What do you do? Step back and ask these important questions: Does an excellent sales manager have the skills necessary to be an excellent vice president? Does understanding the sales cycle and all that is required to develop customer loyalty guarantee successful leadership as an executive? No and no.
In When a New Manager Takes Charge (www.hbr.org), John Gabarro quotes a new division president on his taking-charge process:” You’re on the edge of your seat all the time. It feels like you have no knowledge base whatsoever. …. You’re trying like hell to learn about the organization and the people awfully fast and that’s the trickiest thing. At first you’re afraid to do anything for fear of upsetting the apple cart. The problem is you have to keep the business running while you are learning about it.” In the first months of a leadership role, the new executive must keep the work on track, as well as adjust to the added responsibilities. There is an orientation phase that is often overlooked. This phase addresses new issues such as: How to lead, motivate, let go, collaborate, set priorities, and trouble shoot. Are the right people on board? What is the best way to communicate to so many more people? The ultimate challenge for this new executive is to see the work through a finer lens of strategic goals instead of in the trenches.
Some organizations try to support the new executive in some way. Others toss them into the deep end and hope they swim.
Hand & Associates coaches can provide people like the woman in the example woman with targeted skills and behaviors to take them from a great sales employee to a great sales executive. Examples like the one above are not a new case scenario; they are seen again and again. Making the assumption that a successful employ is ready to manage others, without any further training, can lead to unsatisfactory results.
There is a huge adjustment when you go from being a star player to taking a management/leadership role. How do new managers learn to make that transition? In How People Learn to Become Managers (www.hbr.org), Christina Bielaszka-DuVernay explores this transition. She reports that new managers slowly realize that formal power is not as effective as they thought. Successful executives know that relationships and negotiating skills are far more effective. New competencies are required to successfully perform the role, and such skills can be difficult to learn.
Similar to the division president quoted above, Bielaszka-DuVernay reports that new executives often feel out of control, confused and stressed about their new role. Skills that were praised before don’t cross over when managing a group, meeting budgets, thinking strategically and motivating others. What worked in one situation may not in the other.
Executive Coaches can be effective in increasing self-awareness and providing a safe environment for new executives to discuss their concerns and explore ideas. It is unfortunate, but often the case, that newly promoted executives do not feel comfortable talking about these issues with their boss or HR representative. After all, they were promoted to be strong, not vulnerable.
Hand & Associates coaches support new executives to see things with a new perspective, providing them with tools to re-evaluate information, conversations and feedback.
The Lau Tzu quote: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” demonstrates positive outcome that is possible through the learning process.
Coaching is fishing. Tell a new manager what to do and you’ve addressed one issue. Teach a new executive how to lead (which takes more time) and he or she will have the tools to put into practice in varying cultures. This learning process includes accepting mistakes and learning from them, developing the ability to accept feedback, and asking for help.
What are key areas where new executives need help? Hand & Associates coaches have found a few common themes: